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The Global Social Conversation: You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to!

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to.”  Let’s NOT call the whole thing off!

Last Friday’s #HCSMEU conversation brought up differences regarding healthcare and pharma marketing social conversations in Europe and the U.S, both in style and function.  I have participated in all the healthcare Twitter Chats for over a year now and wanted to share some differences that may be helpful to those communicating across the pond. This is not an attempt to make any way right or wrong, as that would defeat the purpose of this post, which is to enhance the global conversation!

For a summary and listing of all the healthcare and pharma chats, please see our Resource Hub for Healthcare Communications and Social Media Professionals.

Andrew Spong, co-founder and moderator of the European discussion #HCSMEU with Silja Chouquet, will tell you that #HCSMEU is democratic and belongs to the community.  What does this mean?  Everyone has an equal voice from students to senior leadership in some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. My impression from participation in the #HCSMEU chat is that the value of an idea is greater than a title.

This leads to a difference in the way various chats are initiated.  In #HCSMEU, it had not been typical for people to introduce themselves, beyond a friendly greeting.  In #HCSM, on Sunday nights, participants are asked to give their name, title and affiliation before the chat gets going.  This is pretty much part and parcel of American culture. Think about when you meet someone in the States–one of the first questions normally asked is “What do you do?”  When Dana Lewis, moderator of #HCSM visited Andrew Spong in Europe, they discussed #HCSMEU adopting the #HCSM approach and #HCSMEU now also asks participants to introduce themselves.  However, the trend seems to have gravitated back to the original way for most #HCSMEU folks. Why? It would be great to hear thoughts from both the EU and American perspective!

I also recently wrote about the importance of saying “thank you” in social media which brings up another difference.  I have noticed many European followers will provide very personal thank you notes privately in a DM (Direct Message) on Twitter, where most American followers will do so publicly in the stream.  Therefore, more European followers follow directly, and not via lists.  (If someone does not follow you directly on Twitter, you cannot send them a private Direct Message. A clue is to look at follower-following ratios, but that is another post!)

#SOCPHARM weekly on Wednesday nights at 8 pm EST also has a once a month early morning chat at 8 am to be inclusive of European participation, so you will find a mix.

The way topics are generated also differs across the chats.  #HCSMEU has an open google doc wiki where three questions can be added on a first-come, first-served basis.  #HCSM and #SOCPHARM ask that questions be submitted in advance to the moderator who will then choose among the submissions.

The biggest difference that came up in last week’s #HCSMEU chat is the fact that in Europe, DTC advertising is not allowed, so “promotional” is not part of the conversation. The culture clash that ensued in last Friday’s #HCSMEU chat was because a question posed by an American participant in the #HCSMEU chat was found to be too “promotional” by one of the European participants.  The democratic system of the chat allowed the question, which then caused the participants to question the way questions are managed.  Would the question have been approved for discussion in #HCSM or #SOCPHARM or would it have been considered “promotional”?

I think it is incredible that today we can even exchange ideas like this globally in real time all because of Twitter.  In a few years, the global conversation will continue to evolve and this post may be antiquated. In the meantime, let’s acknowledge, appreciate and learn from our differences. Adopt to the culture of the conversation, there is so much to learn!

The above video is from a series of videos by Aurora Health PR, @aurorahealthpr, entitled, “We Hate Social Media,” which is based on British humor! This video also raised some cultural differences within the EU; if you don’t get it, it is meant to be sarcastic ironic! Neil Crump explains his series to pharma here,  “We Hate Social Media.”

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19 responses to “The Global Social Conversation: You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to!”

  1. Thank you Angela, for this thoughtful post.

    Let me recap some thoughts from the promotion issue raised by John Mack (see convo here: http://bit.ly/dCxl5j):

    I actually do not think that the storm in the water glass started by John was about promoting his award at hcsmeu. As a matter of fact many awards have reached out the community before asking for input and nominations, consequently promoting the event. The issue was about the HOW John promoted his award vs asking for input and maybe us Europeans are more sensitive to this or maybe it is social media as a medium in general?

    I like the fact that all these different chats, opinions, micro cultures etc. exist…it is what I appreciate most about social media. I feel at home with the hcsmeu community and made amazing friends like you there. I think a different climate is created by each community’s cultures as well as a their interests, values and beliefs. We ought to treasure and find ourselves in this diversity.

  2. Thank you, Silja, for your comments, and thanks to you and Andrew for founding such a great platform for international exchange. I cannot believe #HCSMEU will celebrate its First Anniversary, August 6th!

    I, too, treasure, the friendships that have been made as a result of all the social pioneers like Dana Lewis from #HCSM and Eileen O’Brien from #SOCPHARM as well.

    Social media has made the world a much smaller and friendlier place.

    Looking forward to year Two!
    Angela Dunn

  3. Hi Angela

    Thank you for shining a light on #hcsmeu.

    Your enduring support for and participation in the weekly event, as well as all the great material you disseminate using the hashtag, is very much appreciated by us all.

    The phrase ‘the value of an idea is greater than a title’ is your strapline in my mind, and it is perhaps the fact that the #hcsmeu community has become a place where those who wish to participate in the health conversation come to share their own ideas rather than only talk about other people’s that makes the event one of the highlights of my working week.

    Your point about the ‘introduction’ idea having faded is still up in the air, I think. We’ve had 47 events now and only initiated the practice a couple of months ago. I don’t always remember to invite people to introduce themselves whilst I tee up the first question, so existing precedents and my own sketchy short term memory may the real culprit here 🙂

    More than anything else, keeping the conversation going as a spur to action is the most important thing. Thank you for the part you play in making that happen.

  4. Thank you for the very kind words, Andrew! I am honored to learn from all of you and share what I hope is helpful to the community.

    An interesting point you made, “a place where those who wish to participate in the health conversation come to share their own ideas rather than only talk about other people’s.” The #HCSMEU community does bring forth a lot of original thinking. What is interesting is that you can see folks take back these ideas to their own organizations and spur innovation.

    Thank you and Silja for all your hard work in not only leading the chat, but putting together the “unconference” and wikispace of information to share!

    Angela Dunn

  5. Hi Angela

    What a tremendous post and thank you for flagging up the We Hate Social Media campaign for illustrative purposes.

    Cultural differences are important and can simultaneously enrich the sweetness of conversation and sometimes create the bitterness of friction. The ying and yang makes the global conversation so exciting, looking at the same situation from multiple angles, where sometimes this is simply no right or wrong answer.

    I added a few comments to John’s post over the weekend (http://bit.ly/dCxl5j) and I hope it is OK to highlight some points that I made there:
    + Social chat and the web is global, but regulations, culture, and the way health is paid for create segments of similarity where it makes sense to focus discussion
    + What hcsmeu, socpharm and hcsm each create is an inclusive space, where people share what they learn in the global conversation
    + As you mention in your post this open way of communicating was not available to us only five years ago. In the social space there is right to reply and people can get into great dialogue from which others can contribute and draw their own conclusions. This is amazing and we must not forget it.

    My team of social media lovers here in London are hugely passionate about hcsmeu and the stated aims. I, like many of other hcsmeuers, am so grateful for what Andrew and Silja set in motion – it may be a more liberal approach, but it works well for the tribe on this side of the pond.

    So just a quick word on We Hate Social Media… I hope my intro video on the above link explains the campaign clearly enough. Some Americans, French and probably other nationalities, have struggled with the irony of the title of the campaign. We would prefer the campaign to be labelled ‘ironic’ rather than ‘sarcastic’. Irony is good, acceptable and very ‘British’ (think Monty Python) sarcasm not always a great way (think Joan Rivers [although I personally actually love her]). There is an important cultural difference for us Brits!

    What is great that people have been receptive to the content of We Hate Social Media and the title has encouraged them talk about it!

    As you so wittily paraphrased Fred and Ginger, “You say ‘to-may-to’, I ‘say to-mah-to’. Let’s not call the whole thing off”. @aurorahealthpr concurs, let’s work even harder to make sure the global conversation is diverse, rigorous, constructive and democratic.

    PS I actually I pronounce it ‘to-mar-to’ ;+).

    PPS The bloopers for the series of videos is released next week – we’ll give you a tweet when it is on YouTube.

  6. Wow, thank you, Neil! Great to hear your perspective and I love “let’s work even harder to make sure the global conversation is diverse, rigorous, constructive and democratic.”

    As you point out, how wonderful to have these forums of social media where views can be exchanged and issues addressed openly. Lovely: “What hcsmeu, socpharm and hcsm each create is an inclusive space, where people share what they learn in the global conversation.”

    You are quite right about “irony” over “sarcasm”, that is a much better choice and I will edit the post accordingly! Funny, I had the analogy of Monty Python in my head!! I very much enjoyed the WHSM videos and how ironic that they highlighted cultural differences even within the EU group. Can’t wait to see the bloopers! Maybe you can throw in ‘to-mar-to’ somewhere!

    Interesting how John Mack’s question started a very wonderful conversation and exchange! I am always appreciative of those that take the time to read and offer commentary. Looking forward to continuing the conversation and more of your creativity! :+))
    Cheers from across the pond! Angela Dunn

  7. Hi Angela,

    I’m somewhat late to the party, but have been giving this subject a lot of thought lately as I survey my contacts offline about starting #hcsmCA (Canada).

    hcsmeu supports sister chapters based in European countries. The idea was largely born out of language, mainly wanting to ensure that everyone could contribute in their native tongue. Developing these chapters enriches hcsmeu rather than splinters it.

    But I wonder: Does the Twittersphere really need another English-based hcsm chat? So far the feedback from my tentative inquires are encouraging me to go ahead, primarily for the reason Neil so aptly described above “Social chat and the web is global, but regulations, culture, and the way health is paid for create segments of similarity where it makes sense to focus discussion.”

    Shared hcsm interests will invariably cross over and translate great ideas globally. Additionally, global and local knowledge will continue to be transferred to work locally elsewhere.

    Interestingly enough, in my recruitment for support for #hcsmCA, I have raised awareness about #hcsm and #hcsmeu. Because my contacts focus largely on government and patient organizations, I’d like to believe that I have helped add to the participant (or at least lurker) mix of the US and European discussions.


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  9. Thank you for bringing your thoughts to the conversation, Colleen! I think there is definitely merit for more localized conversations for the reasons you outline.

    Ángel González has already enjoyed much success with his recently launched chat, #hcsmeuES in Spain. Wishing you much success with #hcsmCA (Canada) and please let us know the details, so we can include it on our Twitter Chats tab located on our Resource Hub at http://bit.ly/HCResources.

    I think an interesting idea might be where all the healthcare chats convene for one huge global chat maybe once or twice a year to discuss similarities, differences and individual progress! What do you think?

    Thank you,
    Angela Dunn

  10. A global chat would be mind boggling.

  11. Hi Angela,

    Just catching this now. Thanks for mentioning #SocPharm and for all of your support of it. This post and these comments are great and I’m honored to be part of such a wonderful community.

    You note that I accept questions in advance and then choose among the submissions. So far, every question that has been posed to me I’ve asked the group! As with all the chats, we try to keep it as open and inclusive as possible. I prefer the 8 pm EST time (I’m an night owl), but was asked to accommodate other schedules so that’s why the last Wed of the quarter we switch up the time to 8 am EST.

    At the start of the #SocPharm chat for introductions I simply ask people to say why they are interested in the topic. My intent is to identify the different perspectives — whether patient, physician, pharma, etc. I also hope to draw out the people lurking on the chat with this friendly welcome!

    I love the idea of one big global healthcare chat.


  12. Thank you very much for explaining your moderator approach, Eileen! As I will be guest moderating #smchat today, I am learning from everyone’s different techniques. Very much enjoy #socpharm and your easygoing style!

    Interesting to know that you ask for introductions to understand the “perspective”! I can see that perspective is important. In fact, Phil Baumann of @Healthissocial is starting a webinar series (in which I am participating) that is doing exactly that. Called “Healthcare Social Media: Perspectives in Practice,” it will provide healthcare social media perspectives from the patient, provider, healthcare organization, and professional development points of view: http://bit.ly/HISwebno1.

    Regarding topic questions: Even though you have never turned down a question, what do you think would be considered an unacceptable question? Is there something you would consider too “promotional”?

    Thank you, again, for taking the time to read our blog and provide valuable insight to our community. We very much appreciate all the hard work that you as moderators do to keep the conversations going!

    Looks like a lot of interest in a global healthcare pharma chat! Maybe after my experience today, I will take the initiative to bring you all together!

    Angela Dunn

  13. Angela

    Good luck tonight with #smchat!

    It’s actually a lot of fun to moderate a chat – and in fact, I’d say that’s the most important recommendation I can give as moderator of #RNchat.

    But here are some practical tips:

    – Remember to add the hashtag (unless your using TweetChat.com). Seems obvious but it’s easy to forget 🙂

    – Start off with introductions and any administrative announcements.

    – Add a tag to the topics (T1 or Q1, etc.) and ask participants to do the same.

    – Let the conversation “breathe” – that is, it’s OK if participants get a bit off-topic (Serendipity is part of the value)

    – If you see an opportunity to build on a point you see made, casually ask the group to discuss it

    – Retweets: it’s good to retweet participants’ points, but just be judicial with it; and make sure there isn’t any favoritism (I’ve seen that happen on some chats and it’s something I always bear in mind when moderating #RNchat) Try to be objective, especially if you hear things you might not agree with.

    – Have fun

    – Have fun

    – Have fun

    – Have fun

    – Have fun


    (Yes, I’m a chameleon 🙂

  14. Pingback: Tweets that mention Odom & Co » The Global Social Conversation: You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to! -- Topsy.com

  15. Hi Angela,

    To answer your questions, something would have to be offensive or completely off topic for me to consider it “unacceptable.” But even then I’d probably pose it to the group and see what they thought.

    I’m all about promotion as long as it adds value. Occasionally at the end of #socpharm I even ask participants if they have any upcoming speaking gigs or blogs that they think are important to share. Most of the time these are valuable and relevant additions to the conversation. If not, then that person gets a reputation for being too self-involved. I think it all balances out in the end.



  16. Pingback: Why #hcsmca? « Colleen Young

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